By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
Lewis Hamilton has bested Michael Schumacher and every other driver in the history of Formula One by claiming 69 pole positions. This is a milestone worth celebrating for Hamilton and for the sport, but there is another, greater milestone that has gone unnoticed that far more accurately gauges the impact that Hamilton has made on Formula One.
To understand this we have to cast ourselves back 16 years, back to when Hamilton was just a boy and F1 was just entering the period of Michael Schumacher’s dominant years with Ferrari. After the challenge of Mika Hakkinen and McLaren had faded, everyone in the racing world was talking about who the next great driver of F1 would be, who would challenge Schumacher next.
The rookie class of 2001, touted then and for many years thereafter as the most talented and significant of all time offered up three strong candidates for this mantle. In order of hype they were Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso.
Montoya had blitzed onto the scene after electrifying the CART series in America and a dominant Indy 500 win. Frank Williams quickly shipped Alexander Zanardi back to the states and brought Montoya into what was at the time, a top team.
Raikkonen had been spotted by the keen eye of Peter Sauber, despite his youth and the fact that he had only raced in a small handful of events, let alone series, he was ushered into the sport and immediately put the paddock on notice.
Alonso was the least hyped of the three, but Schumacher rightly pegged him as the man most likely to be the best when his own time would come to an end.
All three were dubbed future champions: Alonso won the championship in 2005 over Raikkonen, and 2006 over Schumacher. Raikkonen followed suit in 2007 returning the favor. Montoya never quite made it, the best he did was third in 2002 and 2003. It’s likely he could have become a champion, but a falling out with Williams and then McLaren sent the Colombian packing and he returned to America for NASCAR.
All of this was either before Hamilton joined F1 or right at the beginning of his career. Alonso and Raikkonen would come to be some of his biggest rivals, but they had already accomplished a great deal in the sport before Hamilton even arrived.
Why then, all this talk about his rivals when Hamilton is the main focus of this article? There is a very specific reason, and the numbers explain it all. Alonso has 32 wins in Formula 1, while Raikkonen has 20 wins to his name. Montoya reached the top step of the podium seven times before calling it quits. Add them all up and you come to 59, a number Lewis Hamilton surpassed in Singapore when he scored his 60th win.
Be it his flashy lifestyle, the dominance of Mercedes, or the fact that he came into a team at the peak of F1 with McLaren, but lots of people tend to dismiss Hamilton, they say he is not yet a legend of the sport.
Numbers, however do not lie; in achieving 60 wins he has made himself the premier driver of the 21st century, second only to Michael Schumacher in terms of success and impact. He has single handily won more than three other legends of the sport combined. The members of the vaunted rookie class of 2001 have all been defeated by one man.
If we add the other 2007 rookies to the tally it becomes staggering. Sebastian Vettel has 46 wins of his own, and Heikki Kovalainen has one. Added to Hamilton’s tally the total comes to 110 wins for the 2007 class, just one win short of the 111 achieved by the 1991 rookies; Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.